This dark view of the country was largely a fabrication, a political device. Four years later, Trump has made real the apocalyptic vision of America he imagined then.
There, unfolding on live television Monday night, was a dystopian horror. Federal authorities attacked peaceful protesters outside the White House with tear gas, flash-bangs and rubber bullets, as Trump, with Orwellian gall, stood in the Rose Garden proclaiming himself “an ally of all peaceful protesters.” Trump threatened to mobilize federal troops against U.S. citizens on U.S. soil without permission from governors — an act associated with totalitarian countries — then walked across Lafayette Square to St. John’s Church where he held aloft a Bible. Peaceful protesters had been gassed and forcibly dispersed so Trump could have a photo op.
This disgusting scene was long in the making. He ignored an approaching pandemic, turning a crisis into a catastrophe in the United States and worsening the biggest economic collapse since the Great Depression, with more than 40 million out of work and upward of 100,000 dead. Meanwhile, his constant tearing at the fabric of civil society, his dismantling of the institutions that bind us, and his glorifying of racism and violence have ultimately set America ablaze.
The finger-pointing has begun to assign blame for the violence accompanying protests against police brutality. Antifa and anarchists? White supremacists? Opportunistic hooligans? The answer, likely, is all of the above — and all must be condemned. But they are only the proximate cause of the violence. Don’t for a moment doubt the source: Trump has made America hate again.
Trump isn’t the one who killed George Floyd by pressing a knee to his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Police brutality against African Americans — and racism generally — has plagued us for centuries. But Trump uniquely fueled fury, with his constant bigotry, his dismantling of police reforms, his encouragement of police aggression and his violent speech.
Hate crimes in the United States are 30 percent higher than before Trump’s reign of rage. We’ve seen a Trump supporter send pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and media outlets. We’ve seen Republican members of Congress shot playing baseball. We’ve seen the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, the killing in Charlottesville and many more atrocities. Now we see masses pouring into the streets to vent their anger — most peacefully, some violently.
Yet the president continues to stir violence. On Friday, he revived a phrase with a racist history: “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” On Saturday, he boasted about “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” awaiting protesters. On Monday, he urged governors to use more force to “dominate” demonstrators.
Shortly before that, he celebrated the “good people” who held an armed protest in the Michigan capitol. He urged gun-rights supporters to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!; LIBERATE MINNESOTA!; LIBERATE VIRGINIA.”
There have been four years of this. He has spoken of shooting unarmed migrants at the border. He has shared violent videos on Twitter. He praised a congressman for assaulting a journalist, and often induced crowds to menace the “enemy” journalists in the room. He told supporters to “knock the crap” and “knock the hell” out of protesters, fantasized about punching one, and offered to pay legal defenses of those who did.
These violent sentiments have disproportionately been directed at nonwhites, most famously when Trump said there were “very fine people” marching among the white supremacists in Charlottesville. He told four nonwhite congresswomen to “go back” to the “broken and crime infested places from which they came.” He denounced “s---hole countries” in Africa and elsewhere, said Haitian immigrants “all have AIDS,” attacked black NFL players, hosted and retweeted bigots, dehumanized Muslims and Mexicans, and much more — back to his embrace of the birther movement and his demonization of the Central Park Five.
Trump’s racist rhetoric combines with his violent rhetoric in his encouragement of police aggression. He urged police “please, don’t be too nice” when throwing “thugs” into “the back of a paddy wagon,” and he suggested not “protecting their head.” He said laws were “totally made to protect the criminal, not the officers” — and his administration put such ideas into practice. It rescinded post-Ferguson reforms that kept surplus military weapons from going to local police with inadequate training. And it disparaged the Justice Department’s decades-old practice of investigating and remediating police misconduct.
At the time, police and civil rights groups alike criticized the administration; the NAACP said Trump was “encouraging police officers to disregard the safety of individuals in their custody.”
In Minneapolis last week, we saw the consequences of such disregard. And in the angry and sometimes violent demonstrations that followed, we see the consequences of a presidency that brings out the rage.
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